“It is worse still to be ignorant of your own ignorance.” – Saint Jerome
Last year I was given a daily desk calendar (you know, those calendars you forget to tear off daily and so you end up ripping out a chunk every few weeks) that featured humorous answers given by students on tests. Mixed in with the often hilarious exam answers were quotes related to education. The entry from Wednesday, June 26 has been taped to my computer monitor in my office ever since. “It is worse still to be ignorant of your own ignorance.” This is a quote is taken from Saint Jerome’s (who is also the Patron Saint of Libraries) Letter 53 is a daily reminder and warning that yes, even as a librarian, I am constantly in danger of being ignorant of my own ignorance.
I see this play out in real time often when I visit classes to instruct students in the ways of becoming more information literate individuals. Recently, I listened as a student told her classmates that this class (meaning the one I was about to teach) was “really going to be a waste of time because I already have all of my stuff together.” Some might fear for my ego here, but my real concern is that often our students aren’t aware of their own ignorance when it comes to doing research. In fact, I see it as one of my main objectives anytime I talk to students whether I’m in a classroom or at the reference desk. Students – information seekers – often don’t know what they don’t know. As reference librarians we spend a great deal effort honing our skills in the interview process so that we can combat this problem. One of the hardest things about getting someone to the information that they need is actually finding out what it is that they think they need. You’d be surprised how often their actual question ends up being totally different than the one they started out asking.
One of the first steps in becoming information literate is to recognize a gap in your knowledge – or, to know that you don’t know. One way I’ve started being intentional about acknowledging the information gap that a student might have is to have them go find one piece of background information on their topic. It is so very common for a student who is new to research to think of it writing about what they already *think* they know and then just finding sources that support their argument.
Like most of us, students approach searching for information using familiar methods. They “Google.” They use Wikipedia. They sometimes even ask their friends. It feels like it should be easy in today’s information world to find out the answers to your questions. In many ways it is, but in more ways the influx of information makes it more difficult to narrow down where you should look for the truth. I read a statement recently that proposed that “a weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in 17th century England.” (Of course, I would also agree with the criticism of this idea that really this would only take into account written information as it would be impossible to quantify conversations that went on about the weather and “how about that cricket match?”) In light of this information deluge, I’m able to take on the question about the future of libraries and librarians in the age of the internet by saying that now, possibly more than ever, having someone help you to navigate the information landscape is vital.